Described by Matthew Arnold as ‘the city of dreaming spires’, Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities in England. As well as immersing yourself in the city’s culture, make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the gardens both inside and outside the city. Oxford Botanic Garden is well worth a visit. It was founded in 1621 and was the first botanic garden in England. It is open all year round except over Christmas. Occasionally some of the College gardens are open to the public so check them out before your visit.
Privately owned | Historic Houses Association | OX20 1UL
Twenty minutes north of Oxford is Blenheim Palace, a magnificent Baroque house with Formal Gardens and Parkland. Blenheim is a world heritage site and is the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. It has often been used as a film location for TV dramas and films including Spectre 007, The BFG and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As well as the formal gardens, there are over two thousand acres of parkland, so there’s plenty of places to explore.
HISTORY: John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough was given the Royal Manor of Woodstock by Queen Anne in 1705 in gratitude for defeating the French at the Battle of Blenheim. Sir John Vanbrugh and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor were appointed as architects while Henry Wise designed the garden. In 1764, Lancelot Brown was appointed to landscape the park and at the end of the nineteenth century, the 9th Duke carried out an extensive restoration programme. The estate is still owned by the Dukes of Marlborough. The gardens include the Italian Garden, Water Terraces, lake, cascade, wooded pleasure grounds, temples and parkland. It is a World Heritage Site.
The gardens are open every day but check opening times over Christmas. Wheelchair users must always contact Blenheim by email or telephone before visiting. Dogs are not allowed in the formal or pleasure gardens but they are allowed on a lead in the Park. There is a cafe on site.
Privately owned | OX25 4QX
Thirty minutes north of Oxford and thirteen minutes from Blenheim Palace is Rousham. The house has been in continuous ownership of one family since it was built in the early seventeenth century. If you are interested in the beginning of the landscape movement in England, then this is the garden to visit. It is a rare example of an almost unaltered landscape which was first laid out by Charles Bridgeman at the beginning of the eighteenth century and then updated by William Kent.
HISTORY: Rousham was built in 1635 by Sir Robert Dormer and the house is still owned by the family. Colonel Robert Dormer-Cottrell inherited the property in 1719 and employed Charles Bridgeman to lay out the gardens. On his death, the estate was left to his brother General James Dormer-Cottrell who, in 1733, appointed William Kent to develop Bridgeman’s ideas. The landscaped gardens remain almost unaltered today. They include ponds, cascades, various garden buildings and the walled garden with herbaceous borders, parterre, dovecote and apple trees.
Rousham gardens are open every day of the year but check times over the Christmas period. Only cash or cheques are accepted. The majority of the garden is accessible by wheelchairs although it is steep in places. Dogs and children under 15 are not allowed. There is no cafe on site.
Privately Owned | OX33 1JZ
Twenty-three minutes east of Oxford is Waterperry Gardens. Waterperry covers eight acres and is a wonderful example of a landscaped, ornamental garden. There’s plenty to see with beautiful herbaceous borders, an alpine garden, formal gardens and an orchard.
HISTORY: In 1932, Beatrix Havergal and Avice Sanders took over the lease of Waterperry House and land from Magdalen College, Oxford so they could establish a gardening school. They continued the Waterperry Horticultural School until 1971 when it was bought by the School of Economic Science. The gardens have continued to be developed by the current owners and include a Formal Garden, a Waterlily Canal, Long Colour Border and an arboretum.
The gardens are open daily but check over the Christmas period. The ornamental gardens are mainly flat and most paths are wide enough for wheelchairs. Most paths are well-compacted gravel and should not cause too many problems although some areas may be more difficult after heavy rain. There is a cafe on site which at the time of writing, sells delicious homemade food. Dogs are not allowed.